After the minor nightmare of qualifying, the news of cloudless skies would have been music to riders’ ears. And then the actual music started and it was a chaotic recital. The man who thoroughly enjoyed listening to the anthem from the top spot of the podium ended up being Maverick Viñales, the Spaniard finally putting an end to Yamaha’s winless streak at the 26th try. Viñales showed them how it’s done with a runaway victory ahead of Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso, the two archenemies keeping themselves entertained throughout the race.
Ultimately, all the favourites were there with one major omission. Poleman Marc Marquez had a challenging start, dropping like a stone after turn one, much like eventual victor Viñales, while Danilo Petrucci took himself out of contention with a rodeo moment at the Southern Loop while running first. The home fans were delighted early on as Jack Miller picked up the lead by the end of lap one but Marquez was making up places at a fast rate after his early mistake.
Marquez got the better of the home hero into turn one the second time around and Dovizioso took the invitation past Miller as well, the Italian making a lightning start out of his worst qualifying position this season. Iannone, Alex Rins, Valentino Rossi and Johann Zarco followed the leaders closely, while Viñales was still working – albeit slowly – to recover from tenth position.
Presumably having learned his lesson from the past two races, Dovizioso was not too keen to take the lead but that left him vulnerable to Iannone’s advances. Right behind the duo, Miller and Zarco were swapping paint and after the Australian picked up the Frenchman, he set his sights on the Suzuki ahead. Despite Miller and Iannone getting involved in a dicey exchange, it did not allow the two leaders to escape and Miller was soon on their tail. Marquez left the door open soon after and Dovizioso and Miller made it past on lap five.
At the start of the next lap, Zarco crashed quite spectacularly after he clipped the back of Marquez into turn one at 280km/h and luckily both escaped injury but the damage to the world champion’s bike was too big for him to continue, the entire seat unit nearly detached and his rear tyre damaged. While replays of the monster crash / race incident played on a loop, Viñales was craving his spotlight back as he advanced through the field at a rapid pace and picked up the lead by lap eight. That spurred teammate Rossi on as well, the Italian picking up Dovizioso soon after but Viñales got almost a full second in hand only one lap later and took off at the front.
Halfway through proceedings, Viñales was two seconds clear of his teammate, while Alvaro Bautista was pulling off a decent Lorenzo impression, six tenths back on the Yamaha leaders and ahead of teammate Dovizioso. Iannone was the last man hanging on to the chasing pack while teammate Rins dropped a second back together with Miller.
Status quo was broken at the start of lap 16, when both Ducatis got past Rossi but the 2.5 seconds gap to Viñales seemed like a more difficult mission for the Italian rockets. Iannone followed suit soon after and engaged in battle with Rossi. With ten laps to go, Dovizioso saw that Viñales was slipping away further and made it past his temporary teammate in order to lead the chase. It made little difference to the gap but the rest of the lead group kept us entertained for the next few laps. Iannone made yet another mistake in turn four and Rossi had the all clear to attack Dovizioso but the tango continued and the Ducatis surged ahead once more. Meanwhile, Rins quietly caught up with the leaders and was nipping at Rossi’s heels.
When Iannone found a brilliant way around Dovizioso, it looked like a good chance for second at best but with three laps to go, Iannone saw the gap to Viñales drop from four to two seconds. If Viñales had any concerns, Dovizioso interfered as he smelled blood and started hounding Iannone. It was eventually a thankless task, Iannone keeping second over the line.
Bautista took the checkered flag two seconds later, in a well deserved fourth position. Rins took fifth away from Rossi on the final lap, after the Italian ran wide at turn six. Home boy Miller brought home seventh place as top independent rider, while Franco Morbidelli’s best result of the season in eight was both top Honda and top rookie. Aleix Espargaro and Bradley Smith brought Aprilia and KTM to the top ten party.
While the recently crowned world champion failed to finish a race for the first time since Silverstone last year and continued his post-title Phillip Island curse, Dovizioso strengthened second position in the championship ahead of Rossi.
|44||Pol ESPARGARO||KTM||5 Laps|
|55||Hafizh SYAHRIN||Yamaha||9 Laps|
|26||Dani PEDROSA||Honda||16 Laps|
|93||Marc MARQUEZ||Honda||22 Laps|
|5||Johann ZARCO||Yamaha||22 Laps|